Voting Behavior - What Determines Vote Choice?

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Many political science researchers study the forces that drive the vote. One of the earliest, and most well known, books about election studies is The American Voter. Written in 1960, the book tries to explain a model that describes what drives Americans to vote the way they do. The model suggests that social factors determine ones party identification, which determines one's issue positions and evaluation of candidate's characteristics. These forces all work together to determine how one will vote. This model may or may not still hold true today, as political researchers are not in agreement as to what exactly drives the vote. One thing that does remain true, however, is that factors such as social groups, party identification, issues, and retrospective evaluations all play some part in determining the vote.

Although issues play a role in determining vote choice, social forces and retrospective evaluations are the most important factors the American public takes into consideration when deciding who to vote for. Fewer Americans identify with a political party today- in 1992 about 39% of the American public considered themselves as Independents. Before the 1982 election only 35% reported that they were Independents. This suggests that party identification is on the decline despite the American Voter finding that most everyone had a party identification and that their identification did not change much over their lifetime. (Abramson, Aldrich, Rohde, 225)

Many people change their opinion about an issue over time, and only feel strongly about a few issues. Because Americans lack the knowledge of politician's positions on issues, and lack opinions of their own for the most part, they rely on other factors when determining who...

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...ming. Retrospective evaluations require little knowledge or time and anyone can evaluate the President and the economy fairly quickly. Issues are always going to be important to the few that actively support them, but for the most part we rely on social groups and party identification, or retrospective evaluations when an incumbent is running, to help us decide who to vote for.


Abramson, Paul R., John H. Aldrich, David W. Rohde. Change and Continuity in the 1992 Elections. 1995. Washington DC: Congressional Quarterly.

Campbell, Angus, Philip E. Converse, Warren E. Miller, and Donald E. Stokes. The American Voter. 1960. New York: Wiley.

Erikson, Robert S., Kent L. Tedin. American Public Opinion. 1995. Massachusetts: Allyn and Bacon.

Luker, Kristin. Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood. 1984. Los Angeles: University of California Press.
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